Marriage: Beauty in Brokenness

“Marriage is a very difficult relationship for nearly everyone and I’m sure you shouldn’t do it if you want a quiet little easy life.” Fay Weldon

Before our wedding day, almost every married couple we met told us it was going to be really tough. This is the last thing you want to hear when you’re starry eyed and in-love. I remember being freaked-out but also wondering, as I regarded my fiancé, Akshay, suspiciously, “How tough can it really be?”

People told us the first year would be the most difficult one. So when we celebrated our first anniversary together, I was like, “Chalo, that wasn’t too bad.” As it turns out, our honeymoon was just a little longer than we expected because we were still getting to know each other.

Akshay and I met in 2009, became friends in 2010, and got married in 2011. We didn’t have  many mutual friends and our families did not know each other. Everything was new and our arguments remained at the skin-deep level.

One of our first fights was about how Akshay treated my cat. I was highly offended and Akshay was extremely annoyed . . . at my cat. I think the fight lasted an hour, after which we laughed about how silly we were.

Things went slightly downhill from there.

Akshay and I discovered we were completely different in our personalities, family backgrounds, interests. Though we didn’t know it at the time, we had the same heart-idols. Both of us value affirmation and control in our lives and react badly when we feel rejected or out of control. Add that to our broken stories and past hurts and you get a perfect recipe for chaos.

Akshay and I, being the people we are, would have avoided marriage altogether if we knew how tough it was going to be on us. God, in His wisdom and grace, didn’t let us find out until we were in the middle of some of the most troubling and dark times we have ever experienced.

We live in an age when we are constantly trying to find ways to make our lives easier and happier. I think that is the reason most people get married. “Now I will finally feel loved,” we begin marriage thinking, or “I will never feel alone and insecure again.” We look at other couples who have problems and think, “I won’t let that happen to us.” We look at our spouse and think, “Here is my saviour.”

In Marriage, A History, author Stephanie Coontz says, “today people expect marriage to satisfy more of their psychological and social needs than ever before.”

In The Meaning of Marriage, author Timothy Keller writes,

“Both men and women today see marriage not as a way of creating character and community but as a way to reach personal life goals. They are looking for a marriage partner who will fulfil their emotional, sexual, and spiritual desires.”

When our spouse isn’t able to meet all our needs and save us we begin to feel dissatisfied, despairing and lonely. I think most fights and marriage problems are rooted in this feeling that our partner isn’t measuring up to be the saviour we thought they would be.

John Gottman, a couples therapy researcher, write this about unhealthy marriages that are headed for divorce,

“They take the problem and they put it on their partner: ‘The problem is you, and your personality, your character; you’re a screw-up.’ That’s an attack, and that’s the fundamental attribution error that everybody’s making: ‘I’m okay, you’re the problem, you’re not okay.’ So then their partner responds defensively and denies responsibility and says: ‘You’re the problem; I’m not the problem.’”

That’s what a downward spiral looks like. After that first honeymoon year, Akshay and I started on this downward spiral. We would stay on it for the next two years. Sure, we had great times as well, but the theme of our marriage was looking at the other person and asking them to make us happier.

In the midst of this chaos, we were recruited to plant a church.

Planting a church was the best and worst thing we ever did for our marriage. It was the worst thing because it put so much pressure on us we were forced to deal with issues we had been avoiding or unable to overcome. It pushed us to open up to our mentors, to be accountable to a community and to face up to our self-centeredness. While all of that sounds good, it was tough. There were times when we wondered if our marriage would make it.

And it was the best thing we ever did for our marriage because when I look back now I can see how God took us through the storm and brought us out on the other side. He gave us mentors with whom both Akshay and I have been able to learn, grow and experience real healing. We have learned to share our struggles with them and intentionally make time for them to speak into our lives.

Today we stand together more in-love, more committed and more dependent on our Father. We have learned to look to our True saviour, our Greater Bridegroom, our Elder Brother to find in His love for us the deepest sense of approval and the deepest sense of trust. From that place, we can give as freely to the other as we have freely received from Him.

Marriage has been difficult but it has been beautiful. It has caused me to grow up, to be stronger, to face my own darkness and take responsibility for who I am.

Marriage has broken me and then put me back together – and it keeps reminding me that I am broken and I am married to a broken man. But it also teaches me to look to the One who was broken on the cross for us.  We can constantly take our brokenness to Him and be set free of it’s power over us because He was broken so we can be healed.

Marriage has helped me to find my true Saviour, the One who can truly satisfy and love me in the way I long to be loved. And because of His love for me, I can seek to love my husband and serve him, free of my desire for him to save me. As it turns out, we are both happier this way.

 

 

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An Easy Fix

I remember that night when I woke up screaming, with terrible pain in my abdomen. I felt like someone had knocked the air out me. I remember walking around the seminary campus doubled over with pain. I remember not wanting to go to the hospital for fear of being admitted. I remember being rushed to the Baylor Emergency Room. I remember that first dose of IV morphine burning through my veins. And then a temporary blissful escape from that dreadful pain.

That’s how I began my relationship with prescription morphine. I was admitted for biliary colic. I had stones in my liver. A golf ball sized stone to begin with. It was a recurrent problem. They were able to remove the first stone surgically but when I developed couple of more stones within a year they had to come up with a different line of treatment. In the meantime I was prescribed morphine pills to keep my pain under control. The pain used to be so paralysing that I could not do the basic minimum as a mom and wife.  And so I reached for the morphine pills to keep my pain at bay. I justified every pill I took saying this is what the doctor has prescribed.

When I was hospitalised the first time I had no idea about the side effects of morphine. I was naive. I would hallucinate from the effects of the drug and wake up screaming, pulling at my IV line. I was constantly nauseated and had to sleep sitting upright most of the time.  I was constipated. My pupils were always dilated. I was drowsy but could not sleep. I felt miserable. And yet I had no idea that it was because of the morphine. I just assumed that it was a combination of drugs (which could have been the case too) and staying at the hospital for almost a month.

I got back home after the surgery, and within a year I developed more stones. I was stumped.

Until my team of doctors could come up with a plan for treatment and schedule me for a procedure to remove the stones, I was back on prescription morphine again. Between the first and second procedure to remove my stones it was almost a year and a half. For most of that time, whenever I had pain, I would happily pop a morphine pill. The morphine made me forget my pain. It helped me smile again. In fact, it made me feel mildly euphoric.

Close to the time of my second procedure, I was chatting with a friend from the medical field and telling her how I could now take the pain medication and still stay up the whole day without feeling drowsy and walk a straight line even with my full dose of pain medication for the day. She looked me in the eye and said, “Deepa, I think you’re addicted.”

Ouch. That hurt! I was on a seminary campus and my husband was studying to be a pastor, how could I be an addict? And yet that’s exactly what I was. Initially I felt that the pain that I was in justified my behaviour. Then I realised, it was just my easiest option. Soon after that conversation I got a call from my cousin, who is a doctor. He had been following my treatment and he told me that it was about time I stopped the morphine. It was a short conversation, but I got the point.

Soon after that I was back in the hospital to remove liver stones. I remember being in constant pain. I remember being on IV morphine again. I remember a mishap during a CT scan caused my hand to swell up like a balloon. More pain, more pain medication, more hallucinations. I knew this had to stop.

The day I was finally discharged I told the doctors not to fill my prescription for pain medication. I would manage with what I had at home. That night I told my family that I was going to quit taking morphine from then on. I was going to quit cold turkey. It was a tough choice, because I was still in some pain.

In our small apartment that night I thrashed and jerked and refused to be touched. My parents spent the entire night by my bedside praying for me and giving me water if I needed it. I was hallucinating and nauseated and the pain of the withdrawal was almost unbearable. But I refused to take that wretched morphine! Somewhere around 3 AM I dozed off sitting propped up on my bed. My parents fell asleep on their knees beside the bed, from mere exhaustion of fighting along with me that night.

But I kicked it. I kicked the habit that night. It was a battle won through sweat and through prayer.

I don’t remember the next few days very clearly. I don’t remember whether I had any more abdominal pain or not but I do remember flushing the pills down the toilet. I do remember that my sister-in-law was still caring for my baby. I do remember that my husband was cleaning the blisters on my swollen hand. But strangely, through all that discomfort and pain, I don’t remember reaching out for my morphine pills.

After coming back to India my stone issues and related pain have not recurred again with that magnitude or frequency, praise God! There have been times when I have had severe pain and have had to visit the hospital here, and there have been times I’ve been prescribed morphine again for the pain, but by God’s grace I’ve never been addicted to it ever again.

Addiction seems to ease our deepest pain, physical or emotional. It offers us a temporary escape, a feeling of comfort or control. But addiction is a False Comforter. It usurps our reliance on God and so becomes an idol, plunging us into shame. It’s impossible to fix the pain and emptiness through continuing in that destructive pattern.

The lie that I kept believing was that the drug would fix my pain and make me happy again. I was blind to the fact that God loved me enough to allow me to walk through this path, and that he himself was close beside me. The truth is I was mad at God for all that was happening to me and my easy fix was to take a few pills at the slightest onset of pain. I wanted to be happy so I found temporary fixes for happiness instead of looking to Jesus as my wellspring of joy.

The road to recovery from the pain without the help of pain medication has been a long one. I’ve had to make plenty of diet modifications and lifestyle changes. But all these changes have been so worth it to live both pain free and drug free. And the journey has brought me closer to the Lord and taught me to look to Jesus as my One True Saviour.

 

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Betrayed and Befriended

I was 12. That’s when I experienced betrayal for the first time – betrayal that changed my perception of a lot of things and also shaped my entire young adult life. Betrayal that took me years to overcome. It was betrayal that made me take a double take at everything – first and foremost, myself.

There’s no way I can be poetic about this, so, let me come right out and say it – I was subject to abuse when I was 12 years old. The man was a close family friend, much older than my parents and someone I trusted.

What followed thereafter was a whirlwind of emotions, reactions and responses. There was shame, guilt, feeling of being so dirty that no amount of scrubbing can clean it up, there was the feeling of worthlessness and ugliness. For the record, all of these reactions are baseless and inappropriate. If you’re reading this and you’re reminded of what happened with you, I want to be the person telling you this: IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT.

These emotions did get the better of me and I slowly went on a downward spiral, only I was too proud to admit it back then. I was striving to belong somewhere, I was striving to gain an identity, I was striving to be known in the midst of trying to hide what I had been through because if anyone knew what I had been through, I would be an outcast. The tension between the performance I was trying to put up and my real heart condition was too much to live with.

Years went by and the repercussions of the betrayal lived on.

There is yet another betrayal that impacted my life. In fact, this betrayal impacted me even more than the one I’ve talked about above.

“While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?'” (Luke 22:47-48).

Jesus knew He was going to be betrayed, Jesus knew who was going to betray Him, Jesus knew that this betrayal would mean death and He still stuck on with it. Many a times I’ve wondered why Jesus chose to die this way. I’ve wondered why He didn’t choose a ‘better’ death – if one such death did exist, in fact. I wonder what it would mean if Jesus died in His sleep, I wonder what it would mean if Jesus died of a heart attack/natural causes. I wonder if a less severe death would’ve achieved what the crucifixion of Christ through Judas Iscariot’s betrayal did. You see, when Jesus – the God who became man – chose to be betrayed by a human being, He chose to make Himself vulnerable to yet another predicament that we as human beings do become recipients of. Jesus – the perfect and sinless man – was subject to the worst kind of pain that any person can deal with.

However, the profound part of Christ’ betrayal is that it undoes the betrayal that I was subject to. How? When Jesus died on that cross, He died for me. He died to pay for all the sins of mankind – ones I’ve committed and ones committed against me. When He was buried in that tomb, He became the world’s greatest martyr. And when God raised Jesus from the grave, He pronounced ‘justice complete’ over the sins of mankind from eternity to eternity.

The counter intuitive climax of my story is that through the betrayal that Christ went through, my betrayal stands redeemed and I get invited to enjoy an eternal friendship with God.

To those ones who’ve been through what I went through or perhaps even worse: the world doesn’t end there. Jesus sees our pain and offers us comfort. Give Him a shot, maybe?

To those ones who haven’t been through what I did: Truth be told, betrayal comes in many forms and I’m certain you’ve been betrayed at least one – in that, I pray Jesus finds you and offers you the friendship that only He can.

He never betrays us and that’s the best part about Him!

 

 

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On Grief and Trust

Some things that remind me of my mom:
the sweet smell of summer corn boiling,
the shape of my own feet,
Hotel California by the Eagles.
The cold, tense atmosphere of hospitals,
my sister’s face, light-blue eyeliners,
the taste of black liquorice, my own mental battles.

 

After a lifetime of struggling with depression, my mom took her life on an autumn day 10 years ago. Did she take it? Did she lose it? Did she give it up? I was 23 then, a girl living abroad, studying, and trying to figure out the first messy years of marriage. I’m 34 now, and it’s still hard to say out loud what happened, and how it shattered my heart and shaped my life.

The only other person I’ve ever met whose mother committed suicide was a nurse who took my vitals at a doctor’s office when I was pregnant with my daughter. I felt an instant connection to her and wished I could have stayed there to talk. Please, help me, please, tell me how you do it. How do you get through life without a mother? Will it always hurt this much? Will I always feel like an uprooted tree?

When other people are hurting, it’s easy to give the good theological answers for pain, anguish, evil in the world. When you are the one going through the valley of the shadow of death, though, when you are the one feeling like life is squeezing you so hard you can’t breathe anymore and you have no idea where God is, these familiar answers, true as they may be, won’t satisfy the heart.

What’s so hard about grief is re-imagining the future without the person we lose, then actually living through each new stage of life without them. From a motherless daughter I eventually became a motherless mother and was desperately overwhelmed by going through this profound experience without my own mom. I had loving and great family members and friends around me but no one should or can fill the space a mother leaves. No one looks at you the same way, no one strokes your hair with the same ease, no one wants to listen to your breastfeeding woes for a month.

In the last decade I have asked God WHY? a million times in a million situations. Why me? Why my mom? Why did it end like this? Why did she have the struggles she did? Why weren’t there more resources available? Why couldn’t she make a different choice? Why did You not save her life? Why isn’t she here to love my kids? Why did You allow for my heart, my family’s heart to break like this? Why, why, why? I’ve been back and forth more times than I care to admit, asking these questions and explaining to myself what I know of God’s goodness, His sovereignty, His love, of the freedom He gave us, and of the tragic consequences of living as sinful people in a world full of brokenness. It makes sense, but in the end my heart is never stilled for long.

In the waves of this tragedy, I never questioned if God existed, but I started wondering what kind of a God He was. What kind of a Father lets His daughter die like this, hopeless, sick, terrified, and lets her children go through the cruel, lonely, gut-wrenching reality of picking up the pieces and moving on abandoned.

I didn’t read A Grief Observed by C S Lewis until a couple years ago. I felt hot tears running down my face when I discovered these words, expressing exactly what I had come to realise in my own thoughts:

“Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.”

How could I possibly put my trust in Him again, put my heart in His hands again? If He’s good, and loving, and all-powerful and things like this can happen under His watch, I better guard myself.

And this is it. Trust. It comes down to trust. For so long I’ve been living in constant caution and fear, pretending that I can cover my heart with bubble wrap to protect it from any further possibilities of shattering. I’ve been withholding my trust, afraid that if I give my all, He will play a cruel trick on me again. I’ve been following Him to the end of the world with a thin, invisible wall around my heart.

Oh, but I am exhausted of holding back and doubting my Father’s love. I’m tired of hesitating and questioning. I’m tired of the whispers I know all too well: “Don’t you remember how He abandoned you? Don’t you know you are not safe with Him? You can ask and pray as much as you want, in the end He’ll just do whatever He wants.” I long for the intimacy of trusting Him fully with childlike abandon, trusting that His heart is for me no matter what happens.

Recently a counsellor prayed with me and helped me ask Jesus where He was when my mom died. I needed Him to talk to my heart when my mind had grown so numb to the answers I kept repeating to make sense of the pain. She helped me question the lies I’ve unconsciously come to believe: that He turned his face, that He was absent, that evil was victorious that day.

In my mind I saw Him hold my mom’s lifeless body at the end, forgiving her, and I saw Him shielding me as I received the most terrible phone call of my life. I saw Him in the room, I felt His presence. I choose to believe these images because I asked Him to talk to me and because they are in line with His character, with His heart. I saw Him as the One experiencing all the sins and all the consequences of these sins, all the brokenness of my life and my mom’s. The only One who’s ever been abandoned by the Father, the only One He turned His face from was Jesus.

For so long I didn’t know how to include God in this story. But I’m learning to tell it differently now—a story of His faithfulness to me, to us, in the deepest darkness. I see His gentleness, His constant presence, His peace slowly wash over this picture like a layer of opaque paint, I see it run into the deep, sharp cracks and fill them up. Walking with me in the valley, coming around me, the same God every single day of my life. And I can say that even when these incomprehensible, terrible things happened, I am confident that He was with me and He was with my mom. And that changes everything.

 

 

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The Baby Blues

We’d been married for 3 years before I got pregnant. It was a very uneventful pregnancy and our baby girl was born on Oct 13, 2015. I had thought the delivery would be the most painful/difficult part but actually, it was quite easy and quick. I didn’t have any problems feeding her. She was healthy. I was healthy. And on the surface it seemed life would be smooth sailing from here. But a week in, the baby blues kicked in.

“Baby Blues” is a rather sweet name for the constant crying and feeling of being overwhelmed. It was like experiencing a massive panic attack each time the baby cried. My heart would start thumping madly the minute I heard a wail. This was very unlike my usual steady, feet-firmly-on-the-ground personality. Things continued like that for a while and I just kept holding on. Dealing with a newborn’s needs, the middle of the night colicky crying, lack of sleep, left me drained with no energy to even pray.

Nevertheless, the healing was happening simultaneously. I was led to speak to people who gave me ideas on how to put my daughter on a sleep schedule. Once she was on a schedule, my sanity gradually returned, and I was less prone to panic. Things slowly improved and I thought this post-partum depression was finally behind me.

However, 8 or 9 months later, I began to feel disproportionately angry. The anger stemmed from a sense of hopeless rage. We were a nuclear family – just my husband, my daughter, and I. I had taken time off from work to care for my baby and I felt, now that she was 9 months old, I should be doing other things – “me” things. Though I tried, I couldn’t find any good daycare or even help to babysit my daughter. I desperately wanted to go back to work and the inability to do that had left me with a loss of identity. This was feeding my anger.

Though I always seemed to walk around with a general sense of irritation, I never attempted to cover this up in any way. I was honest with my husband and my sister and realised I had this unreasonable Project Perfect Mom in my mind. The smallest things would set me off. I had no motherly feelings. And I was failing at this mom thing. My husband was very supportive of my irrational outbursts, thankfully! When he realised I was changing personality-wise, he began to pray for me. When things would get really bad, he would talk to me and explain how irrationally I was behaving. The communication helped put things in perspective for me as well.

Eventually, I let go of my schedule regarding going back to work and decided I had to be a stay-at-home mom for the moment. Even at home, I learned to be more flexible instead of getting angry, to accept the fact that chores would be left undone – like leaving clothes in the dryer overnight or not cooking the most brilliant meal. I had to let it go. Instead of being fussed that my daughter was claiming my time, I learned to be intentional with my time with her. To accept that this season would be messy and schedule-less, that my baby would need me to drop everything and be with her, and that it was OK.

Spiritually, I used to feel guilty. Perhaps if I just prayed or read my Bible more I wouldn’t feel so angry and hopeless all the time. This was the constant refrain in my head. Perhaps I was experiencing all these un-biblical feelings because I wasn’t being spiritual enough. The guilt would feed my anger and sense of hopelessness more, and fuelled the lack of motivation to be “spiritual.” This was a vicious cycle. I eventually realised that was another unrealistic expectation. With a toddler, it was impossible to have an elaborate quiet time. I learned to come to God intentionally, not pretending that everything was OK. Initially, I tried to approach God intellectually – to pray about my feelings. But God led me to big issues – to pray about corruption and Syrian refugees. He made me shift focus from myself to others. He taught me to pray differently. There were no frills anymore. It was very raw.

God also kind of forced us to become involved in the church community. Our church was planting a smaller church in the area where we lived. Since we were one of the group of families from that part of town, we were thrust into various positions and responsibilities with the church plant. Though it was a tiny group, we were no longer just recipients at church. Having to actually organise things helped me focus a little more on others, which in turn helped me feel less useless.

Another thing that helped was regular exercise. Having an hour to just jump around very ungracefully at an aerobics class left me in a better frame of mind to meet the day.

Before I had my daughter, I was the type of person who went out, tried out new food joints, went shopping regularly, met up with friends, and had a finger in several pies because I loved having work to do. After my daughter was born, one of my biggest frustrations was that I was no longer able to be that kind of person. I had no freedom, no time to do things at my own pace, no sense of personality that I could call my own.

God showed me that I would now be a different kind of person. I would not be able to go back to being the way I was before, but it was OK to be this new person too. That contentment ensured that I no longer felt frustrated about my life.

Of course there are still days when I feel I’m not a good mom, when I get upset and cry. But there’s no longer any guilt.

Postpartum depression has several strains and what I experienced was, medically, a very mild one. I never had to actually visit a counsellor or doctor but I always kept the number ready in case the feelings threatened to overwhelm me.

As a believer, I sometimes wonder why I had to experience this. However, I’m realising that through this experience I’ve been able to empathise with several other young mums who struggle with these feelings. I think God brings these women into my life so I can share some of the truths and lessons I’ve learned. If you ever do begin to feel isolated and overwhelmed with fear and panic please do reach out for professional help.

I have learned that God is not in the business of creating perfect, plastic, happy people. He helps broken people build relationships through their brokenness.

 

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Culture Clash: Taking Off The Blinkers

Over the years, I have been certified “culturally bankrupt” on more than one occasion.

As a Fine Arts student in college, I was totally clueless in several of the Indian art classes I took. I had the story of the Mahabharata totally muddled and was forever confusing the various avatars of the gods in the Hindu pantheon.

Later, working for an advertising agency, we often tried to find a cultural hook to kick off an ad campaign — and here again, my cultural connect was dangerously low. I would be working on a bridal jewellery campaign, but didn’t know the significance of the three knots tied in the traditional ceremony. Trying to do a series of festive ads for Pongal was difficult when I had never celebrated the festival, and hated the taste of the dish. My classmates and colleagues found it very amusing that I had to research these things that they had known since childhood.

I also hate wearing mallipoo (jasmine flowers), have never seen a Rajnikanth film, and am hopeless at tying a sari. And most recently, Chennai’s recent protests against the ban on jallikattu (a traditional bull-taming sport) completely failed to stir any of my “Tamil pride”. I’m with the bulls all the way.

As you can see, my cultural score is dangerously low, but it never bothered me much. I always told myself that Indian culture was much too huge to know it all.

But there was one aspect of my culture that I always felt I was strong in — after all, it’s been an important part of my life since early childhood — church culture! While I am not a pastor’s kid, I considered myself the next best thing.

There was the sword drill at Sunday School, memory verse tests and church camp that gave me an early foundation in the Word of God. The hymns and songs that convicted and encouraged me as they have many others over the centuries. And the communion which was central to the church service and to my faith.

But then I got married and joined a new church. And suddenly had the shock realisation that I was not really as much of an expert as I thought on church culture, or even on Indian church culture. I was simply an expert on my own church’s culture, with its idiosyncrasies rooted in a particular region, a particular denomination, a particular history. My husband, I discovered, had no idea what a sword drill was (for the record, it’s a competition to see who is the fastest to find Bible references). We also had completely different experiences with church music. He knew more of the worship songs of this decade than the hoary old hymns written a couple of centuries ago. And communion was not even part of every Sunday service for him.

And so, when I first got married and moved to a new church, I felt I was in a new and almost foreign culture. This was not church as I knew it. But as I heard God speak week after week and as I got to feel the love and care of the people around me at that church, I learned some new things about church culture:

  1. A vibrant culture embraces diversity: I’ve come to appreciate the variety and differences across several churches and services. To understand that this is a reflection of the way God has created us – each so different and unique, and yet he has called each of us to be His children and a part of the body of Christ. This realisation of the sheer variety of people who make up Christ’s body has opened up my own understanding, giving me new insights and new learnings from God’s word. But it has also given me a peek into the dangers of teachings that skirt around God’s word – for a church which is not firmly rooted in the Bible is not really a church at all.

  2. Authenticity is key: The traditions of the church and orders in the service may change, but this in no way makes one church more or less authentic. It’s not about how things are done during a service, but what’s in my heart and mind while doing them. Pride in my church’s tradition or culture is an empty pride, both hurtful and harmful. That kind of pride resents change and that in turn stifles growth. And a church where its members are not growing, is dying. A church that is being authentic is being true to God’s word – and not merely to any church traditions.

  3. Culture is about the people who make it: Any culture, just as a set of practices and traditions, is meaningless without the people who bring it to life. And church culture is the same. It’s about the richness of community; a community that is alive in Christ; a community that is walking the walk and not just talking the talk.

 

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The Question of the Queue

If there is one thing that brings out the worst in me in a public place, it is someone cutting or jumping a queue in front of me. There is something that bubbles up and comes to the surface when I notice someone trying to push their way ahead with no regard for the fact that other people are standing in line and waiting for their turn.

This is not a once-in-a-while occurrence, but a daily in-your-face reality. Given the population of our country, there are usually a sizeable number of people in most public places. And the times when it is not a free-for-all with everyone pushing their way through, there is a queue to bring some semblance of order, equality and justice into the madness — in the metro, at a grocery store, at the bank, at the post office, at Starbucks, and so on. And just as often as there is a queue, there is someone who ignores an already existing queue and surges ahead.

There is some underlying tension, especially in Delhi, that fights against this orderly system.  Novelist Rana Dasgupta puts it well when he describes the Delhi mentality in his book “Capital”:

“Delhi is a place where people generally assume more, say, than in Bangalore or Mumbai that the world is programmed to deny them everything, and that making a proper life will therefore require constant hustle – and manipulation of the rules.”

The fight to get ahead, to push past others, to gain an edge by not losing time standing behind others, is a microcosm of a culture that seeks to manipulate the rules to get ahead.

My response to this queue-cutting ranges from passive-aggressive to direct confrontation. My passive-aggressive response involves glaring at the person and muttering under my breath, hoping they decipher my facial expression and murmurs and quickly run behind and join the line. This hardly ever works!

Or I elbow and edge my way past them hoping they get the point. This works sometimes, but results in them not cutting in before me but cutting in right behind me, still not joining the proper queue.

The direct confrontation mostly works, but my words are laced with icy sarcasm — “Excuse me, but if you didn’t notice, there is a queue here” — and sometimes even raised voices. During demonetisation, I stood in a queue twice  in the first week and most of the time was spent yelling at people joining the queue randomly or who felt they had every right to join in right at the front because someone they knew had reached the front.

But there was one incident that made me step back and wonder why I have such an aggressive response to this. I was in a busy metro station that had an unusually long line for the security check. In Delhi, the lines for men and women are separate and as I came up to the front after standing in a queue for about 20 minutes, a lady lifted the barrier and began to go ahead of me. I tapped her shoulder and told her to get back into line. She began pointing to something and I refused to listen to her. All I kept saying was, “You need to go and join the queue, we have all been waiting”, and my tone got harsher and harsher. I ignored all pleas and excuses, and just as I was about to go up to the scanner, I turned and looked at her and her eyes were almost tearing up.

As I walked away and got on the train, it didn’t feel like I had taught someone a valuable lesson on the importance of waiting your turn or not cutting a line. It felt like I had just been horribly rude and harsh with someone, who maybe was new to the city, unsure of where to go and what to do in a Delhi metro, who maybe was pointing to someone they were travelling with and was scared of getting lost.

I began to think about why something relatively trivial was such a huge deal for me. At the heart of it, I felt I had done the right thing. I was obeying the rule, I was being good and the people who didn’t follow the rule were not as good as me and not as well mannered. I felt somehow superior…and then I realised I was just like a Pharisee, feeling good about my goodness and neglecting kindness, gentleness and love.

This has made me think through the many times I justify my behaviour because I feel I am doing the right thing while I gloss over the sin and pride in my own heart. The many times that I am a whitewashed tomb.

This probably won’t result in my allowing people to come join the queue in front of me, but the realisation has challenged me on the way I respond to this aspect of my culture and many other aspects.

My city doesn’t need more people who are cold, harsh and rude, even if they are right. It does need more kind and gentle people, who act to change things, but in a way that reflects a heart that is being renewed in the image of the Creator — who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  It needs more people who are willing to bear the costs of kindness in the face of a harsh and broken world and culture, because we have One who bore it all and who gives us the strength to respond as He did.

“I want to draw attention to something else – something often ignored in the clamour for better and clearer rules of Christian behaviour: that we should be positively kind to one another…The quest for justice all too easily degenerates into the demand for my rights or our rights. The command to kindness asks that we spend our time looking not at ourselves and our needs, our rights, our wrongs-that-need-righting, but at everyone else and their needs, pressures, pains, and joys. Kindness is the primary way of growing up as a human being, of establishing and maintaining the richest and deepest relationships.” — N T Wright

 

Photo Credit: Chispita666 via Flickr cc

Being Single in a Married World

If there is any topic more written about than marriage, I’ll eat my hat. And maybe yours too.

If you’re anywhere near the eligible age, it’s the elephant that fails at hiding in the shadows during seemingly casual conversations with neighbours, family and equally single members of the opposite gender.

I always assumed I would never have to go through this.

After all, everyone is hyper-sensitive, especially to the feelings of single Indian women who work every day and have way better things to do than worry about getting married, if we feel a calling at all.

It’s been a really crazy experience prepping for close friends’ weddings for the last two years of my life. I’ve been on all kinds of diets, worried about getting the right material, gone looking for the perfect shade for wedding cards and even organised a bachelorette party while based in another city. For all the fun these outings with my besties has been, (I’ve got my own wedding planned to the finest detail), it’s also given me a lot of time to contemplate how very single and unprepared I appear to be.

Part of our problem, as a people, is that we tend to swing one way or another. I remember my pastor describing this vividly in one of his talks on love.

We are either overly cynical or overly romantic. We either pine for our long-awaited future husband, or we decide we will be just fine alone and don’t need anyone to complete our lives.

And while I agree, we don’t need a man to give us joy or “complete our lives” the way Jesus does every day, I’m beginning to see that this wild oscillation is a coping mechanism many of us have developed to handle the struggles thrown at us.

I’ve had people tell me I’m already on the shelf at 24. I’ve also had people tell me that I shouldn’t consider getting married until I’m 30. I’m buffeted and battered on every side, to describe the man of my dreams, to really “get out there”, to take it easy, to wait patiently. I can’t think of a single piece of advice I haven’t received, from prophecies about D-Day to tips on reducing high expectations.

I’m overwhelmed by the sheer excitement and anxiety that pervades this entire process.

On one end of the spectrum, we have what I’d like to call the “overly-anxious aunty/uncle” who is well-meaning but destructive in criticism of all the unattractive qualities you possess from poor physique to bad pronunciation.

On the other end, we have the “super-relaxed aunty/uncle” who assures you that God is just working on your to-be-husband and that it’s a good thing He’s taking so long because that means you’ll get the perfect guy.

While the overly-anxious individual is quite blatant in their agitation, and therefore in many ways easier to ignore, the super-relaxed is often doing equal damage but in subtler ways. This individual builds your hopes and expectations about marriage to such a high that it’s difficult to identify and kill the lies every one of us comes to believe in.

All I can say is that it’s very difficult to be a single girl in her mid-twenties. And it’s even harder to live in the fascinating dichotomy that is our culture.

I have realised personally, that in battling this struggle, it has become increasingly easy to forget Jesus.

I fall on the cynical side of the spectrum more often, building walls and assuring myself that all I need to do is focus on work and keep my head down so that one day, when He nudges me, I’ll look up and find him.

I forget it’s always about finding Him.

When I get exhausted by what the world tells me I must do and how I must behave, I go back to the everlasting comfort of these words that tell of a love far greater and richer than any between a man and woman on this earth.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

That’s 1 Corinthians 13:1, one of the most beautiful descriptions of love that I have ever read.

It makes me want to fall in love with this God who loves me like this, who speaks beauty into the world, who is Love. When I fail at walking the line between cynic and romantic, when I fail at waiting, when my patience is wrung to its core, He reminds me to turn to that wooden cross where Love hangs wrapped in my failures, smiling and waiting for me.

It is then that the voices of the world fade to nothing. It is then that the wait is finally over and He takes my hand.

 

Photo Credit : Unsplash

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